Fort Worth and the Fraternity of Strange Women
RICHARD F. SELCER*
T HEY HAVE BEEN CALLED MANY THINGS OVER THE CENTURIES-WHORES,
fallen women, scarlet women, daughters of joy, harlots, bawds,
painted women, sluts, tarts, floozies, chippies, streetwalkers-but per-
haps the first euphemistic reference to prostitutes is found in the Book
of Proverbs (2: 16- 18): "To deliver thee from the strange woman, even
from the stranger which flattereth with her words . . . for her house
inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead...." In the mid-
nineteenth century the Reverend William Taylor, in his book Seven
Years of Street Preaching, looked back over his years in San Francisco
during the gold rush and proclaimed, "Babylon has fallen!" He ex-
plained: "The whole fraternity of the 'strange woman"' had been suc-
cessfully put down by law throughout the state.'
But that was California. In Texas, the reform movement had not
even begun. In fact, prostitution was not even a serious social problem
until after the Civil War when the cattle drives brought boom times to
towns like San Antonio, Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, and Fort Griffin. In
these towns, and dozens more just like them all over the West, prosti-
tutes were usually described as "soiled doves," a name that carried the
interesting connotation that once they had been gentle, fragile crea-
tures before being stained by the sin of sex.'
It is impossible to say just how many soiled doves or "strange women"
called Fort Worth home in the late nineteenth century. The local au-
thorities did not keep statistics on such things, and the vice commis-
*Richard F. Selcer, who has a Ph.D in history from Texas Christian University, teaches for
the Dallas County Community College District (Northlake College) and is on the adjunct fac-
ulty of International Christian University in Vienna, Austria His book, Hell's Half Acre. The Life
and Legend ofa Red-light District (1991), won the 1992 William E. Jary Memorial Award from the
Tarrant County Historical Commission. He is currently working on a history of the Texas
Spring Palace of 1889-1890 and a biography of Confederate General George Pickett.
'Ronald Dean Miller, Shady Ladies of the West (Los Angeles: Westernlore Press, 1964), 158.
2After about 1830 in this country, the word "prostitute" fell into disfavor, to be replaced by
various euphemisms hke "soiled dove." By the end of the nineteenth century, however, the
term in its different variations ("prostitute," "prostitution") was once more acceptable in public
print. See Robert E Riegel, "Changing American Attitudes toward Prostitution (18oo- 1920),"
Journal of Historical Ideas, XXIX (June, 1968), 442, and Margaret Wyman, "The Rise of the
Fallen Woman," American Quarterly, III (Summer, 1951), 167-177.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 96, July 1992 - April, 1993. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101215/. Accessed March 15, 2014.